Today I am so excited to share an organization that has become so dear to my heart! PEP! The Pet Education Project was founded 8 years ago by Erica Callais Falbaum. While volunteering at our local animal shelters, Erica saw a need for community education & began speaking to elementary school classes about the core responsibilities of pet ownership in order to reduce pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect, & euthanasia. 3 years Erica spoke to Patrick’s Rotary Club about PEP! He came home with her contact information & told me that he had found the perfect organization for me to be involved with. I contacted her immediately, joined the board, & have been involved ever since. Erica’s dedication to animals & enthusiasm for helping children learn the importance of responsible pet ownership has been so inspiring.
The question that we most often receive is why focus on animals when there are so many children that need help. Albert Schweitzer said that “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” Studies have shown that approximately 89% of child abusers have also abused an animal. By teaching children to value & respect the life of their pets, we are teaching them compassion that will translate into value & respect for human life.
The program has grown exponentially in the last few years & we recently traveled the country to visit our first 2 chapters! If you followed along on instagram, facebook, or snapchat, you know that we had a blast spreading PEP!’s message!
Our first stop was in Denver, Colorado to tour the KONG offices & factory. Most employees are able to bring their dogs to work, which sounds like heaven to me! We toured the factory where most of the products are made & even got to bring some home. I had no idea that many of their publicity photos are taken at area shelters & that so many toys are donated to shelters. KONG has been a huge supporter of PEP! & this visit made me love them even more!
Next we were off to Los Olivos, California & Old Yeller Ranch Rescue! OYRR operates a rescue shelter on the Fess Parker Winery property, pulling urgent dogs from shelters throughout California. OYRR organized a PEP! Rally at the vineyard, with activities for kids, information on adoptable dogs, a PEP! Talk, & a presentation on emergency care for animals. The weather could not have been more perfect & it was a fun, relaxing way to start the trip. The kids played on a bouncy train, had lunch on the lawn, & met Sweet Socchi, the therapy dog!
After the ribbon cutting, we went up to OYRR to tour the facility & visit the dogs. OYRR houses up to 15 dogs at a time & they work with each animal on rehabilitation. Their executive director & trainer, Deanna “Dee” Folger-Diaz, & founder, Amanda Parker, put everything they have into each animal. It is absolutely amazing to see how far some of these dogs have come in trusting people again. They were the ideal first partnership for PEP!
We were able to spend some time with many of the dogs. Mr. B, seen just below, wanted to come home with me but there was no room on the plane! (insert crying face here!) Each animal has plenty of room, shelter, & attention to meet their individual needs. Zoey, one of their newest additions, has been making incredible progress from the scared & fragile animal that she was when OYRR took her in. You can follow her progress on Instagram!
Our next stop was PEP!’s second chapter, Second Chances Volunteers, in Dickinson, North Dakota! Second Chances is a group of volunteers dedicated with providing assistance for local animal rescues and shelters, advocating for the well-being of animals, and educating the community about responsible pet ownership. They are such an inspiring group of women, who came together because of their love for animals. We are so happy to have them as part of the PEP! family!
Erica, dressed as an animal hero, gave a PEP! Talk, with the help of Second Chances, to a huge group of kids at a local elementary school. We were able to bring a therapy animal to show the kids the proper way to approach an unknown animal. It is always amazing to see the children’s eyes light up when Erica walks in & to know that they are leaving with some practical knowledge that can help them care for their pets at home. One of the best parts of the trip was to see that, even though each organization faces some different local issues, there is the common goal of helping animals in need & educating the public. As Dee said, it was rejuvenating to spend time learning from each other.
The animal tower, a staple at all PEP! Talks, shows the number of animals that are euthanized every day in Louisiana. It’s so powerful to see a visual representation of how many animals that actually is.
After the talk, we visited the Dickinson Animal Shelter & played with some of the adorable kittens! Second Chances helps to organize local adoption days so that people can meet the animals & hopefully find a new family member! There was an adoption of the sweetest little kitten while we were at the shelter!
The next morning we were off to a book reading, PEP! Talk, & ribbon cutting at the Dickinson Public Library. Earlier this year, Erica published her first children’s book, Pep Squad, starring the PEPpets. It’s a fun way for parents to reaffirm the fundamentals of responsible pet ownership with their children. We had a huge turnout & had so much fun interacting with the kids. The kids loved to see one of the PEPpets read the book & all of the characters were able to sign copies of the books!
Then we hopped back on the plane for our final stop – Detroit, Michigan! We started with a tour of the Michigan Humane Society‘s new Detroit location. It is such an incredible facility! They have a state of the art veterinary center, outdoor runs for the dogs to get exercise, plenty of space to house animals, and adoption suites where adopters can get to know the animals. They offer assistance to pet owners in order to keep more pets in their homes & are able to investigate neglect or cruelty cases. MHS President, Matt Pepper, is a former director of our local animal shelter & has been a supporter of PEP! since the beginning, so it was great to catch up with him & see all of the amazing things that MHS is doing.
Many of the cats & kittens are housed in large playrooms, which provide much needed freedom & interaction. The staff was so friendly & knew so much about each of the animals housed there.
We gave 3 PEP! Talks during our 2 days in Detroit. The first was at the Michigan Humane Society’s Education Center. It was a small group of kids, but we had a blast playing with them & reading Erica’s book.
The next morning we were at the Michigan Humane Society’s Berman Center, for another small group presentation. We played games, read the book, & answered questions. The room was lined with paintings of adopted animals, with each story written from the animal’s perspective. I teared up as I circled the room, reading the stories.
Our last stop before heading home was the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center, founded by author Mitch Albom. S.A.Y. Detroit provides shelter, food, medical care, volunteer efforts & education for some of Detroit’s neediest families. The Play Center provides after school programs in academics & sports. The kids were so excited to see the PEPets & listen to Erica. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
You can find out more about PEP! & sign up for our FREE children’s magazine here!